Monday, 9 November 2015

Life outside the EU

1. I am not dead.

2. Point of disclosure I live in Switzerland (if the UK wants to bum rape slum kids made good to pay for Essex millionaire grannies it can do so without my triple mortgaged brain footing it. Interesting legal point for another day, if born into society have you "accepted" to abide by the law or is it foisted on you?).

3. I am not really anti Europe. And if you stopped reading here then I will take comfort in fact that you have probably gone off to rot your brain with corporate welfare pleadings dressed up as news in the Telegraph.

But enough of that. As you may know Switzerland is not in the EU. It is in another odd little club with Norway, Iceland and the only German speaking country to not border Germany, Liechtenstein, called the EFTA (European Free Trade Association). If you were going to say EEA, then make a dunce hat and wear it. WEAR IT I SAID!. Fun fact: the UK used to be a member of this too, from about 1960 to 1973 but decided more cash could be made from the EEC).

For the people who cry "but Britain would be something circa Mad Max Fury Road" (really awesome film but terrible place to live) Switzerland, and to be fair the other members of the EFTA, present something of a problem.

First off, some quick background. Switzerland is only about twice the size of Wales, fairly mountainous and with a population of about 8 million. It has 4 (well 4 and a half) languages of which German is the most prevalent, followed by French, then the Italian speaking canton of Ticino and lastly a few bits of Graubünden where Romansh is still in use. (the half is English because it is basically the default for forrins too dumb to learn German).

Swiss unemployment hovers around the 3-4% mark with half of that broadly acknowledged to be people with serious conditions like non functioning alcoholism or drug dependency who are never really going to hold down a job anyway.

The median household income is in the region of £50,000. The average in Germany, the richest country in Europe is about £30,000.

The biggest export partners for Switzerland are Germany (about 20%) and the US (about 10%) and like most small European countries (looking at you Sweden, Netherlands and Lux) it has a very active and approachable diplomatic service that is quick to assist and support domestic businesses in their foreign adventures.

Much to the almost constant ire of the US, Switzerland point blank refuses to criminalise people who download copyrighted material and has successfully resisted various barbed demands over the years to change this policy. Make of that what you will in the "But how can we stand up to the US" arguments, apparently all it takes is a spine. (though if you post copyrighted material expect a serious bill in the post with a fairly blunt but polite note).

While the apparently still shooty UK can press its military reserves if really needed for a combined weight of about 250,000 personnel, thanks to a history of giving every teenager an assault rifle and pointing them at the nearest border the Swiss can mobilise almost 3 million troops surprisingly quickly. Almost every Monday morning my commute is met by a dozen or so late teens/early twenties boys with huge kit bags and aforementioned assault rifles slung around their persons. My neighbour explained that if you are issued with a gun you need to keep 50 rounds of ammunition with it just in case for example France decides it wants to have a go. the 50 rounds are to get you to your barracks where you "tool up". He then pulled out something that looked like it was the prototype for the blunderbus, but in fairness he is bluddy ancient, and waved it around until his tiny wife called him an idiot.

It should also be borne in mind that Switzerland (along with Iceland and Liechtenstein) is not oil or particularly mineral rich so has no easy money (like the slovenly Norwegians who really have caught the resource curse) to smooth the road and so must rely almost entirely on international trade for its wealth.

All in all therefore life outside the EU is pretty decent, even when you are literally surrounded by the EU.

Except, it's not the whole story. The really odd thing is that the rabid, EU can do no wrong loons, would love the UK to look like Switzerland while those in UKIP's core vote who have that whole "let's go back to the 50s, I like my food boiled and boiled some more and was rampant racism all that bad" would absolutely hate it.

The Swiss rejected the EU in the early 90s and the economy did suffer growth was certainly slow but the country did not become an economic waste land by any means. One of the biggest grudges attributed to that decision was the fact that Swiss Air got gobbled up by the rampant monster Lufthansa (which now has its own legacy problems, so go figure).

The Swiss therefore did what any sensible European country outside the EU would do (hint) and that was to spend 4 years arguing about association agreements. the upshot of this is that Switzerland today has borders which are more open with the EU, than the EU member UK has. i.e. I don't have to go through stupid passport control when I fly to the Netherlands for business or Austria for a cheap McD's (since I can throw a stone from Sumo HQ) but to go back to the UK I need to add an hour onto my journey time to stand in a boxy room and be stared at by a bored guy who we all know failed police school who doesn't even record the entry and exit.

I do need a work permit, but because I am an EU citizen I can hang around for 3 months looking for work and if I apply for a permit I am guaranteed to get it. No quotas (well there has been a referendum so circle back in 18 months, generally west of Vienna = okay). I also have access to the Swiss benefit system which, unlike the complex "throw various packets of cash at everyone unless they have a beard and then bitch like a child who had to share the toys they weren't using" UK system, is simple and sensible. If you work for (I think) 18 months then you are eligible for benefits if you become suddenly unemployed. This stops people turning up and demanding benefits. This stops teens living on the dole post school and this stops any argument about discrimination since everyone has to meet the same standard. As it is very easy to hire and fire that unemployment has to kick in quick and because nobody wants to piss around with lots of benefits, the unemployment benefit is just 80% of your salary from the year before you were canned.

It's a nifty trick because by not handing out things like housing benefit nobody is getting a private landlord to give them a house and no bank is giving a mortgage, meanwhile if you were employed you can still pay your rent but that 20% will be biting.

While the Swiss legal system is quite open, business friendly and pretty much WYSIWYG, many things, such as Art.253b of the Swiss code of obligations gleefully slap rent controls into an otherwise quite free market economy.

So there we have a quick over view from outside the EU, nowhere near a disaster zone, in fact, in comparison to much of the EU, things "actually work" however the UK would be starting from a very different position and would certainly need to endure some initial pain as it found its feet and got its house in order. It very unlikely that the UK would cut all ties to the EU and that pretty much means that free movement of people is never going to go away.


Lola said...

Great piece. I too love Switzerland - I lived in Davos for a time when a child.

And the trains are fab. I recommend taking the Bernina Express from Davos to Tirano for lunch. And make sure you note the Landwasser Viaduct on the way.

But back to the point - generally. Yep.

SumoKing said...

I like the ones that a children's slide and stuff in them up at the front. Keeps screaming brats away when you need head space.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Thanks. That is the impression I got when I was there a couple times, talking to Swiss people, reading up a bit.

Good choice of typeface, given the topic (Helvetica).

Kj said...

Lovely summary. There's much to envy about policy in Switzerland. I'm reasonably satisfied with my country, but let's be honest, without the oil, we'd likely be more like Sweden, i.e. mostly shit.

Bayard said...

"the UK would be starting from a very different position and would certainly need to endure some initial pain as it found its feet and got its house in order."

The record of the last few governments being what it is, if the UK left the EU, we'd hang onto all the disadvantages (over-complex bureaucracy, lack of accountability, user-hostile public services etc. etc.) and gain none of the advantages.

Lola said...

B Yes, that's the real worry. Once out there'd be a helluva job on to sack all those pointless bureaucrats.

I'll do it.

Random said...

DBC Reed said...

Here we go on the anti public sector bureaucracy moan. There is bureaucracy in the private sector you know. In fact as King Gillette said : competition increases bureaucracy because competing firms all have to maintain the same number of departments :HR , marketing etc. This is the right-wing justification for business mergers: merge two companies and you save on one set of offices or halve your bureaucratic overheads.
In Gillette's day the argument was that socialism reduced bureaucracies.It still holds .When I was in FE they privatised all the colleges and bureaucratic functions done in the LEA by a few clerical officers were spread out among the colleges leading to
a lot of separate offices working very much under capacity.It got to the ultimate inanity of teaching rooms being taken over by bureaucrats whose job satisfaction came from being incredibly rude
and unhelpful to lecturers and students.(My evening-class students were told that they had missed the deadline for A Level entry when the exam board deadline was two months distant: the Exam Office had set up their own administratively more relaxed ,bone idle, deadline to suit themselves leaving the students distraught).And so on.Even I was amazed how what could have been a useful decentralisation became the usual, very British racket.

Lola said...

DBCR Generally, no. Any entrepreneur knows that there is one certain way to ruin and that is to love your/any bureaucracy. Competition - absent in state bureaucracies - keeps for profit outfits lean - mostly. The 'mostly's' are crony businesses that ally with state bureaucracies to try and exclude competition.

DBC Reed said...

What is the economic cost benefit of mergers then?
Take the colleges re-organisation that became a racket.In the Midlands one large LEA protected a monopoly for one college to specialise in A level Religious Studies ( an absolute goldmine since there was a huge catchment area of religious minded Muslims, Hindhus,Sikhs creating a steady-state mass of 60 students a year ).Come the laissez faire privatisation revolution (they called it incorporation, probably in honour of Mussolini)there was a massive de-merger and the ten colleges in the area ended up with about six students each.These class sizes were deemed inadequate by funding bodies who withdrew their support so nobody got any classes in Religious Studies.
But imagine a Utopian, totally free economy model: the six small classes would be made to persist by increasing fees to cover increased pro-rata overheads, so you would revert to 60 students doing the same subject at higher costs than under a centralised bureaucratic syte,
The alternative to centralised public sector bureaucracies is many more private sector bureaucrats scattered about.

Bayard said...

DBCR, where did I say public sector bureaucracy? I am quite in agreement with you about private sector bureacracy. Have you ever read "Up the Organisation" by Robert Townsend? (Apologies if I've mentioned this before) He's quite hot on combatting the effect described by E Northcote Parkinson in "Parkinson's Law".

Lola said...

@Bayard - and C Northcote Parkinson, and Teasley etc etc. I have a mate who did consultancy for Ford, he reckoned it was like the civil service making cars. But, the Trabant was actually made by a real state bureaucracy whereas in the same time that the Trabbie stayed in production Ford went from the Pop to the Focus. Competition even with bureaucracy still works better. It's all down to incentives.

Lola said...

@DBCR. Nope. You cannot take the specifics of a flawed denationalisation of a bunch of FE colleges as proof of your points. It is probable that there was a lot of cronyism involved and all sorts of TUPE bollocks that skewed the whole thing.

My points still stand and the evidence of history and all, and I mean all, the of failures of all mass state bureaucratic rationing bear me out.

DBC Reed said...

I am no great car buff but comparing the Trabant with Ford appears a bit selective. Why not compare it with the products of BMC from the fifties and sixties when the Trabant was introduced?British car manufacturers did not see competition as any great incentive except to merge into one enormous conglomerate with the likes of the subsumed Riley ,Austin ,Morris Wolseley etc introducing superficial styling changes in cars designed to be replaced as quickly as possible in the era of planned obsolescence.By contrast, the average working life of a Trabant was twenty-eight years.
Austin only came up with awful A30and A35 when it looked like the big merger with Morris would never happen.Had the merger happened earlier the Morris Minor might have remained the solid,reliable and chromeless Central European- looking car it started out as.A less brutal Trabant.

PS Far from being bollocks, TUPE discouraged right-wing weirdos worsening the conditions of service and wage levels of lecturers while increasing the size of the managing bureaucracy.Plenty of colleges still had to dismiss many of these newly created bureaucrats subsequently though, in an efficiency drive that they enthused over in their offices but which backfired on them.